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Learn. Discover. Grow.


Interested in applying to the USU Biology Graduate Program?

Wonderful! Graduate training is an integral part of our Mission. We offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Biology, Ecology, or Neuroscience. Research in our department spans all areas of biology, including biogeochemistry, cell signaling, conservation biology, ecology, animal behavior, evolution and systematics, genomics, insect biology and pest management, neurobiology, microbiology, molecular plant physiology, molecular and synthetic biology, physiology, plant and insect pathology, and public health.

All our students receive a guaranteed five years (PhD) and three years (MS) support package that includes salary, tuition waiver, and partial fees/insurance during the Academic Year, during which time they receive training and mentorship in research, teaching, as well as myriad opportunities for professional development. In addition, students can fund their research and education through competitive internal scholarships and grants. We also offer workshops geared specifically for graduate students to help them prepare grant proposals for external funding sources, like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Our graduate students are active members of the Biology department. There are plenty of opportunities to become involved in department committees and student government. We are also deeply committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable community. There is a place for everyone in USU Biology, including first generation students and those from underrepresented backgrounds. There are a lot of resources available at USU and the surrounding community to support you during your time in Logan, UT. Some of these include:

Utah State University


If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to contact our Graduate Program Coordinator, Metta Ray ( or our graduate student liaison, Skylar McDaniel (

Step 1. Identify potential major advisors

When? Typically, early Fall

  • Identify faculty members who research in your area of interest

Graduate programs at USU Biology are highly centered around advisor-student relationships. Acceptance into the USU Biology Graduate Program requires a faculty member agreeing to advise the student. Identifying and contacting a potential advisor is thus a critical part of the application process.

  • Not sure where to start? See this list of Biology Faculty actively recruiting new students. You can also reach out to our graduate student liaison who can help identify faculty who may fit your interests (
  • Send an email to introduce yourself

Once you have identified one or more potential advisors, send an email to introduce yourself. It is a good idea to include a CV and brief statement of interest. Let the potential advisor know why you are interested in their research and how you see yourself fitting into their lab. You could suggest a meeting to learn more about their research, describe your interests and goals, and get a sense of whether you could work well together. Here is a helpful guide for what to look for in a potential advisor. Keep in mind that graduate training is a highly individualized path that will be determined largely by interactions between you and your advisor. It is a good idea to make sure that you have a similar vision for research and could work well together.

  • Don’t see any openings that match your interests? Reach out anyway!

Even faculty who are not actively recruiting for a specific project may be willing to work with potential students to find funding opportunities. It can’t hurt to reach out to introduce yourself, as these faculty may keep you in mind for future opportunities as they arise, even if they are not accepting students at this time. Here is a full list of Biology faculty with links to their research websites or posters.

Step 2. Complete the application

When? Typically, late fall (December 15 is the deadline for full funding consideration)

Once you have identified a potential advisor, and they have encouraged you to apply, it is time to complete your application through the USU School of Graduate Studies.

Don’t meet the minimum requirements? Don’t worry too much about that for now. In some circumstances, these can be waived. Your potential advisor may have a sense of how likely you are to receive a waiver.

Note that we no longer require GRE scores, but you will still have the option to upload them if you would like.

  • Applying from outside the U.S.?

Great! USU Biology has graduate students from across the globe. You will need to complete a few extra steps during the application process, but the Office of Global Engagement is here to help you. You will need to submit some additional documents.

    • Proof of English language proficiency could include one of the following:
      • TOEFL score ≥ 71
      • IELTS Academic scores ≥ 6
      • USU’s Intensive English Language Institute’s placement exam ≥ 146
      • Completion of ≥ 24 credits of post-secondary or university course work taught in English in the U.S.
      • A certified English translation of any transcript originally penned in another language
    • Passport Copy
  • Be sure to specify the faculty member you would like to work with
  • Prepare the Biology specific requirements

Although you will fill out the standard USU application, the Biology department asks for a Statement of Purpose (SOP) to evaluate your fit for the potential advisor, preparedness for graduate study, and likelihood of success in graduate school at USU Biology. When asked for the SOP on the application form, you will be given the following prompt:

Please describe why you wish to attend graduate school in the USU Biology Department. As applicable, please address the following areas as they relate to your interests and experiences: Research Potential and Preparedness (e.g., short & long-term goals, alignment of goals with the Department and potential advisor, experience with independent research and scientific communication, relevant skills, teaching & mentoring, innovation & creativity, planning & organization, teamwork); Persistence & Commitment (e.g., leadership/community involvement, perseverance, independent learning including non-traditional formats, formation and use of a support network); Individuality (appraisal of strengths & weaknesses; personal and professional ethics).

  • Identify three people to write letters of recommendation on your behalf

Letters of recommendation are an important tool for us to evaluate your fit for USU Biology. It may be helpful to let them know why you want to attend USU and tell them this is what we will ask them to describe in their letter:

As applicable, please address the following areas as they may relate to your knowledge of the applicant: Research Potential and Preparedness (e.g., short & long-term goals, alignment of goals with the Department and potential advisor, experience with independent research and scientific communication, relevant skills, teaching & mentoring, innovation & creativity, planning & organization, teamwork); Persistence & Commitment (e.g., leadership/community involvement, perseverance, independent learning including non-traditional formats, formation and use of a support network); Individuality (appraisal of strengths & weaknesses; personal and professional ethics).

  • Arrange for transcripts to be sent
  • Upload your Curriculum Vitae (CV)

This is like a resume but is more specifically geared toward academic preparedness. There are many styles of CVs. You might find this guide helpful in preparing yours.

  • Check to make sure your application is complete

Your application will not be evaluated until we have received each component. Please check in with your letter writers to ensure they submit their letters on time. Fee waivers may be available under certain circumstances. If you require a fee waiver, please send an email to with a brief justification (1-2 sentences) for the request and the name of the potential faculty advisor to whom you are applying to work with.

Step 3. Visit us!

When? Typically, mid-February

After reviewing all the completed applications, faculty members will be asked who they would like to invite to the USU Weekend Visit. The Graduate Program Committee will then send invitations to prospective students, depending on the total number of slots available. The Weekend Visit is an excellent opportunity for you to become familiar with USU, the Department of Biology, and the surrounding area. You will typically stay with a graduate student in the department so that you will get a taste of what life is like living as a graduate student in Logan, UT. There will be several department events, student events, and even opportunities for recreational activities. You will also get a chance to have short one-on-one conversations with several faculty members in the department and plenty of time with your prospective lab. You can find more information about the Weekend Visit here. Invitations are typically sent in mid-January.

Importantly, attending the Weekend Visit is not a requirement for acceptance. There are several scenarios under which you may end up being accepted to the program even if you are not invited to the Weekend Visit. For example, you may already be familiar with USU and do not need or wish to attend, there may be fewer spots available for the Weekend Visit than spots available to accept students. We encourage most of our prospective students to attend the Weekend Visit, but it is not necessary for acceptance to the program.

Step 4. Await notification

When? Typically, early March

Faculty members will evaluate each applicant to their lab according to a holistic evaluation rubric (below). They will also select at least one other faculty member to meet with and evaluate the applicant according to the rubric. This will likely be someone that the prospective student met with during the Weekend Visit. If the applicant did not attend the Weekend Visit, they may schedule a separate interview via zoom or phone. The Graduate Program Committee will meet to determine how many applicants can be accepted, based on funding availability. The final list of candidates recommended for acceptance will be sent to the Department Head and the Graduate School for approval. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out as soon as possible in March. The notification will include details of your funding package. If accepted, you will have until April 15 to declare your intent to enroll the following Fall term. New students are typically expected to arrive in Logan by August 15.



Strong evidence

Some evidence

Not evident

Persistence & Commitment


Support Person Availability

Can define a professional support network including mentors

Expresses support from one individual, or family, or community

Expresses little or no support from family or institution for goals

Leadership / Community Involvement

Demonstrates involvement and leadership ability in either academics, family, community, religious group, or athletics

Demonstrates involvement in groups in academia or extramural but has not shown leadership

Not involved in institutional or community group, no demonstrated leadership

Non-traditional Learning / Initiative

Has engaged in, and learned from, experiences outside the classroom, i.e., performed independent research, extramural activities, self-taught skills

Shows some evidence of non-traditional learning experience

Has not engaged in or indicated learning from experiences outside the classroom


Can describe a time they failed or encountered an obstacle and successfully coped

Can identify a time they hit an obstacle but has trouble defining how they overcame the challenge

Has little experience with failure/obstacles. Cannot provide an example or describe response



Positive Self-Concept

Expresses confidence they can complete challenging goals, makes positive statements about abilities

Shows confidence and independence but may be unsure about adequacy or skills

Is unsure they can complete the program, exhibits low self-esteem

Realistic Self-Appraisal

Can clearly and realistically delineate strengths and weaknesses, works on self-development

Has trouble identifying strengths and weaknesses but appreciates/seeks both positive and negative feedback

Over or understates abilities, does little to no self-assessment, does not appear to have learned from experiences

Personal and professional ethics

Can very clearly describe ethics within self and within a professional setting; also letter writers describe clear demonstration of integrity 

Describes some ethics within self or professionally; alternatively, letter writers describe clear demonstration of integrity 

Has very little to no ethics professionally or within self 

Research Potential


Preference for long vs. short term goals

Clearly communicates long-range goals beyond graduate school

Primary goal is graduate degree

Is vague about long-term goals or goals are short term such as coursework or a specific project

Alignment of goals

Stated goals are well aligned with the strengths and mission of the Biology Department and potential advisor

Stated goals are aligned with the goals of the potential advisor, but are somewhat outside the strengths and mission of the Biology Department

Stated goals are not well aligned with those of the potential advisor or the Biology Department

Research Experience

Has led in independent research

Has participated in directed research

No relevant research experience

Scientific communications - Publications

Has submitted a first-author publication

Has coauthored a publication

Has not participated in the publication process

Scientific communication - Presentations

Has presented research to a scientific audience in the form of an oral presentation

Has presented research to a scientific audience in the form of a poster presentation

Has not presented research to a scientific audience

Teaching & mentoring skills

Has experience teaching and mentoring with clear demonstration of positive outcomes 

Has experience teaching or mentoring, perhaps some demonstration of positive outcomes

No experience teaching or mentoring or no indication of positive outcomes

Innovation & creativity

Several examples of problem solving in research

Some indication that applicant may be good at problem solving

No indication that applicant is good at problem solving in research

Planning & organization

Indication of ability to track research projects, data, and results

Has experience organizing either data or multiple projects with success

No indication of ability to track research projects, data, or results in an organized manner


Clear demonstration of ability to effectively function as a member of a research team in both leadership and supporting roles

Some indication of ability to effectively function as a member of a research team in either leadership or supporting roles

No indication of ability to effective function as a member of a team

Academic Performance



Has succeeded in a broad range of coursework that will provide a solid foundation for graduate work in Biology and has achieved high grades in the relevant classes

Some key courses are missing or grades are low in some areas, but an upward trajectory in performance is notable

Many key courses missing or grades consistently low


Consistent record of scholastic achievement in the form of Dean List, Honors, Awards, or Scholarship throughout college. May also be noted in LoR (e.g., top 1% of class)

Some recognition of scholastic achievement noted toward the end of college education demonstrates an upward trajectory.

Scholastic achievement has not been formally recognized

Writing Skills

Statement of purpose is well written and conveys clear message

Statement of purpose conveys message, but the quality or organization of the writing could be improved

The message conveyed by the statement of purpose is not clear and the writing is of poor quality